Frank’s mild contemplation…

New Work

A story on the occasion of Christmas 2011

By Thomas Trofimuk

Frank Moss had never even considered the possibility that the joy of the season could be brushed away so easily. But the lists of things to do, and gifts to buy, and cards to make, and cards to post – and the delivery of presents had done just that. The rush to decorate the house and to find the right and proper tree, and to decorate it just so, and to get ready for the Christmas season had brushed joy away like a skiff of snow from a windshield. The seasonal expectation of joy and love and peace all achieved through the activity of shopping seemed at odds in Frank’s tattered heart. He wanted to reject this notion but at the same time, he was so caught up in the madness of it. He was actually a little frightened to just sit quietly and think about everything he’d been doing – in the name of Christmas.

But Frank faces this fear. He finds himself sitting in the corner of his favourite bistro at 2 p.m. with a glass of wine – his second, and his head spinning. He’s trying to figure out what happened. Barber’s Adagio is playing. This bistro does not play seasonal music. It plays only classical. Always. For this, Frank is grateful. He wants to kiss his waitress for this. But he’s pretty sure she would hit him with a plate. There was a purity to this musical steadfastness that moved him. This bistro was unwavering. It’s not that Frank doesn’t like Christmas – the opposite is more likely. It’s just that this year, they’d gotten behind in the decorating of the house and the buying of gifts, and when the decorations were put up, there was no joy in it. It was rushed and without grounding in any tradition. It was just one more goddamned thing on a list – a really long list. It was something they had to do so they could cross it off. The more Frank thought about, the more he realized there was a dearth of tradition in his family. He and his wife, and their two daughters, were all complicit. There were a multitude of things they did but none carried meaning. None carved out a steady reminder of what this was all about – the Christmas season, the Christmas story, being a human being on this small blue dot of a planet, being a feeling and living and breathing human being. Frank would settle for a reminder of what it was to be human, a reminder to be kinder, more gentle, more compassionate — milder in everything he did — milder with the people in his life. He made a mental note to look for things this year, so that next year, he could begin building rituals. Forget the lists. So long as a couple meaningful rituals or traditions were adhered to, the rest of it could get done, or not – oh well. And these rituals could be the most simple and easy things. A particular movie. A walk around the block. Hot mulled wine while decorating the front of the house. Reading a story, a poem. A spontaneous act of generosity. Anything that brought a why to what they were doing.

With this resolution under his belt, Frank orders another glass of wine. He still feels like that skiff of snow on the windshield but at least he has a bit of a plan. And his Christmas idiocy was numbed by the wine.

The next morning, Frank goes for a workout with a small throbbing behind his eyes. For the past three months, he’s been working with a personal trainer. He thinks the term personal trainer sounds pretentious so he doesn’t tell anyone. But, he’s really been enjoying the work. It’s not very much money and it’s only once a week, in the basement of his trainer’s house.

Caroline shows no mercy. She does not care about the wine he’d consumed. She works him hard. Her husband is out of town so their daughter, Sophie, sneaks down and sits at the bottom of the stairs and watches as Frank works and Caroline offers encouragement. At the end of the session, Frank asks Sophie what her teddy bear’s name is, but she says nothing. She just looks up into his eyes with an odd curiosity. Frank can easily remember when his daughters were three. Sometimes it breaks his heart to remember.

At the front door, as Frank is putting his shoes on and arranging a next date — one more before Christmas – Sophie runs full-barrel across the living room and hugs his legs. She hugs Frank hard for a good twenty or thirty seconds – a lifetime for a kid. And Frank lets her.

Caroline is taken aback. “That was weird,” she says. “She’s never done that before.”

In his car, Frank sits behind the wheel. He slides the key into the ignition but does not turn it. He sits without moving and very slowly, he begins to sob. He sobs until there’s nothing left. He does not question it. His tears become only another way of being in the world — like inhaling and exhaling.

On the drive home he realizes he’s out of it. A three-year-old had pushed him out of the madness into a quiet sanity. He wasn’t going to wait until next year. He was going to begin right now – the second he got home.

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Thomas Trofimuk

Thomas Trofimuk’s last novel, Waiting For Columbus, has been published in numerous countries and was nominated for the 2011 IMPAC Dublin literary award. He lives in Edmonton.